Observations from and analysis of the Nats’ series loss at the Phillies
Game 1: 3-1 win on Monday night (Sept. 25)
Game 2: 4-1 loss on Tuesday night (Sept. 26)
Game 3: 7-5 loss on Wednesday night (Sept. 27)
1. The inevitable became official during this series. Tuesday night’s loss coupled with the Dodgers’ 9-2 win over San Diego clinched the one-seed in the National League for Los Angeles and cemented the Nats as the two-seed. Wednesday night’s 5-1 win for the Cubs at St. Louis clinched the NL Central for Chicago, setting up, as we have long expected, a Nats-Cubs NLDS. A few thoughts on the defending World Series champions:
- These have not been the dominant Cubs of last season. They were 43-45 at the All-Star break and were swept at home by Milwaukee, their principal challenger for the division this season, as recently as Sept. 8-10. A run of 12 wins in 15 games followed that sweep and gave the Cubs the division.
- The biggest difference for the Cubs has been their starting pitching. Jon Lester and John Lackey this season have been nowhere near what they were last season. Jake Arrieta has continued to come back down to earth from his all-world 2015 season. Kyle Hendricks has been the Cubs’ best starter for a second straight season but still not as good as he was last season. And their big in-season trade acquisition, Jose Quintana, had an ERA of 4.50 over his first nine starts with the Cubs before having a great September so far (1.63 ERA over four starts).
2. Bryce Harper on Tuesday night returned from a 41-game absence caused by a hyperextended left knee, left-knee bone bruise and calf strain. And while the Nats actually went 25-16 during his absence, the offense clearly suffered (4.1 runs per game versus 5.0 prior to his injury).
- Harper went 0-for-2 with a walk on Tuesday night. He drew a four-pitch walk in the top of the first in his first plate appearance back before striking out on five pitches in the top of the third and popping out to second baseman Cesar Hernandez in a two-pitch at-bat in the top of the fifth. Harper was replaced in the bottom of the fifth by Victor Robles in right field.
- Harper went 1-for-4 with a single, a strikeout and a stolen base on Wednesday night. He grounded into double plays in the tops of the first and third innings, singled on a 1-2 pitch in the top of the fifth and then struck out in the top of the sixth.
Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper in action during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
3. Did ya notice the Nats’ lineups over the final two games of the series? Bryce Harper was in the no. 2 spot in both games. The Nats’ top four batters available on Tuesday night made up the top four spots in the batting order: Trea Turner, Harper, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats’ top five batters made up the five spots in the batting order on Wednesday night – Turner, Harper, Daniel Murphy, Zimmerman, Rendon. Has Dusty Baker finally come to the church of Galdi when it comes to lineups? Has Dusty finally embraced the sabermetrically-inclined, analytically-driven philosophy of lineup construction? Only time will tell. But this was a great sign as we approach the postseason.
4. Michael A. Taylor had a two-run homer in the top of the second and a walk and a steal in the top of the fourth on Monday night and a two-out solo homer in the top of the fourth, two singles and a stolen base on Wednesday night. He had a career .644 OPS coming into this season. He now has an .806 OPS this season.
5. Do the Nats need to worry about their NLDS Game 3 starter? Both major candidates looked bad in this series.
- Tanner Roark’s second-half resurgence hit a speed bump on Wednesday night. He allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings on seven hits and five walks. This was at best his third-worst start of the season, and the outing came off him having posted a 3.38 ERA since the start of July after having a 5.27 ERA through June. Roark began a three-run second by giving up a walk, two singles, a two-run double and another walk. His three-run fifth included him giving up a walk, a two-run triple and an RBI double in succession off having two outs.
- Gio Gonzalez on Tuesday night struggled for a third time in five starts. He allowed three runs in five innings on two doubles, three singles, five walks and a wild pitch. The control, obviously, was what bothered you the most, as Gio reverted back to being walk-the-ballpark Gio. He walked two batters in the bottom of the second, including a two-out walk of the Phillies’ starting pitcher, Jake Thompson. Gio walked the first two batters on a combined nine pitches in what became a three-run third. And he issued another leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth. As I’ve pointed out, as effective as Gio has been this season (2.75 ERA), a good number of his peripherals have actually been worse for much of this season as compared to what they were last season (when he had a 4.57 ERA). Among those peripherals is his walk rate. Gio now has a 3.48 BB/9 this season. He had a 2.99 BB/9 last season. Gio did have seven strikeouts on Tuesday night, raising his K/9 this season to 8.51. But that’s still lower than last season’s 8.68.
6. A.J. Cole on Monday night had one of his better starts for the Nats this season, allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings. He gave up a two-out homer to Odubel Herrera on an 0-2 pitch in the bottom of the fourth, but the other five hits that Cole allowed were singles, and he had five strikeouts versus two walks.
7. The new-look bullpen continued to roll, allowing just two runs (one earned) in 9 2/3 innings.
- Monday night – Oliver Perez, Matt Grace, Matt Albers and Sean Doolittle combined for 3 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings.
- Tuesday night – Joe Blanton, Enny Romero and Austin Adams combined to allow one run in three innings. The run came off Romero in the bottom of the seventh, during which Freddy Galvis advanced from first to third on an Aaron Altherr groundout to Trea Turner at shortstop – how often do ya see that?
- Wednesday night – Sammy Solis, Brandon Kintzler and Romero combined to allow one run (unearned) in 3 1/3 innings.